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December 23, 2012 12:23 pm
The head of the Metropolitan Police has returned from his Christmas break to review the investigation into the Plebgate scandal, which has badly shaken relations between the police and government.
Scotland Yard said Bernard Hogan-Howe had concerns over the welfare of the officers at the heart of the incident in Downing St, in which former chief whip Andrew Mitchell was alleged to have called police “plebs”.
Mr Mitchell denies using the word and in an article in the Sunday Times he claims he was the victim of a “stitch up” by “police elements” who wanted to “toxify” the Conservative party.
The former chief whip has no confidence in Mr Hogan-Howe’s ability to get to the bottom of the affair, in spite of the Met Police chief’s promise to leave “no stone unturned”.
Scotland Yard said the commissioner had returned from a Christmas break to “take the opportunity to be briefed on any developments in the investigation” and that he was “maintaining an open mind” on its conclusions.
Mr Hogan-Howe said: “The allegations in relation to this case are extremely serious. For the avoidance of doubt, I am determined there will be a ruthless search for the truth – no matter where the truth takes us.”
The inquiry is being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission; among other questions it will look at the role of a serving Met police constable suspended by the force this month over allegedly giving a false account of the incident.
Meanwhile Nick Herbert, Tory police minister until this autumn’s reshuffle, has called for urgent police action to tackle the “cancer” of corruption among a minority of officers. Writing in the Observer, Mr Herbert said that while “corruption may not be endemic, neither is it an aberration”.
Mr Mitchell gave his fullest account of the incident in the Sunday newspaper article, saying the stress caused him to lose a stone in weight and admitting that his attempt to close down the row had been “a disaster”.
If this can happen to a senior government minister, then what chance would youth in Brixton or Handsworth have?
- Andrew Mitchell
He admits swearing in exasperation after a police officer refused to open the Downing St gates to allow him to exit on his bicycle and confirms that the officer said that he could be arrested for his behaviour.
But he said he did not lose his temper: “These awful, toxic phrases which were hung around my neck for weeks and weeks in a sustained attempt to toxify the Conservative party and destroy my career were completely and totally untrue.”
Downing St has rejected suggestions that the former chief whip felt he had been “hung out to dry” by David Cameron.
A spokesman for Number 10 said: “The prime minister stood behind his chief whip through weeks of growing demands to sack him. It was only when it became clear that he could no longer do his job that his resignation was accepted with reluctance.”
Mr Hogan-Howe has stuck by the account of the incident recorded in the police log by officers at the Downing St gates, but MPs will be asking questions in the new year about his handling of the affair.
Keith Vaz, Labour chair of the Commons home affairs committee, has claimed that a “robust, transparent and comprehensive investigation” is needed into the affair.
He called on Mr Hogan-Howe to provide his committee with an explanation of how information about the altercation entered the public domain and why the Downing Street police log “appears to conflict with CCTV evidence”.
Mr Mitchell wrote on Sunday: “If this can happen to a senior government minister, then what chance would youth in Brixton or Handsworth have?”
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